“This is no longer about the science”: Leaders agree it's time to act on climate, days before IPCC release

Clare Saxon Ghauri
Reading time: 4 minutes
24 September 2013

NEW YORK: At the Climate Week NYC 2013 Opening Ceremony today, entrepreneurs, policymakers and industry leaders including Richard Branson, Tony Blair, Todd Stern and Jim Kim agreed we must move beyond climate science debate to action--in America and internationally--just days before the IPCC climate science release.

Introduced by Stephanie Abrams, meteorologist for The Weather Channel, our CEO, Mark Kenber, officially opened Climate Week NYC by outlining the importance of the summit's fifth anniversary being in 2013--a year which has seen a series of critical events intensify the climate dialogue in America, such as atmospheric CO2 reaching record levels, the Colorado floods, severe drought, and Hurricane Sandy’s estimated US$70 billion in damages. He stated that, with the IPCC report due Friday and expected to say man-made climate change is 95% certain: “The science is clear. It’s now time to act. This is not about politics and division. It’s about the world that we will hand on to future generations. Which is why this coalition of leaders, from around the world and right across the political spectrum, is on this stage today. To move beyond endless debate and division. To lead and drive innovation. To build a strong, low carbon economy.”

Rt Hon Tony Blair spoke next, listing Obama’s Act on Climate plan in June, the strong chance US emissions reductions will be met and the new commitment from China as ‘good signs’ for climate progress. He said: "I am optimistic about the direction of policy now, but what I worry about is the speed. Scale is not the issue, urgency is.”

Climate costs

Outlining pivotal reasons for such urgency, American Security Project CEO, Brigadier General Stephen A. Cheney, USMC (Ret.) said: “I’m here to talk about how climate change affects national security. Because it's a threat-multiplier–it affects food, water and energy security. It is driving cross-border migration.” He also stated: “70% of military defense planners around the world recognize climate change as a threat to national security. […] We cannot afford to ignore climate risk.”

Next on stage, Pam Johnson, President of the Corn Board of the National Corn Growers Association, which represents the interests of more than 300,000 American farmers, talked of how 75% of corn production was affected by America’s recent droughts, costing US$30 billion. She said: “But the story could have been worse. Technology is helping farmers become more resilient. Farmers are at the ‘ground zero’ of climate science and have long been committed to green practises to help ensure our long and prosperous future. The next generation deserves nothing less.”

American action

Representing another important American community that is increasingly advocating climate change action, Dr Dorothy Boorse, Professor of Biology Gordon College and evangelical leader, explained how Christian people are making the link between ‘caring for your neighbor’ and the fact that environmental degradation harms the poor. She said: “We are people of hope and people of love. We act on what we see is best for the world.”

Following Former Republican US Representative Bob Inglis and Executive Director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, who also affirmed the power of community with: “Americans can accomplish great things when we act together”, closing the ‘Clean Revolution: American perspective’ session, was entrepreneur Tom Steyer. He said: “This is no longer about the science. Or how hard it is to figure out the policies. This is about the politics. We must win these battles.”


Opening the global perspective session, Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Chairman, Founder of Carbon War Room and member of our International Leadership Council, shared how he had been interested in climate change for years because, he explained: “as an entrepreneur I am interested in solutions. I’ve often said that protecting natural assets should be the biggest opportunity, not a sacrifice. Climate action won’t hurt us, climate in-action will. […] There has never been a better time to bring innovations to full scale, such as smarter infrastructure, clean energy, more efficient technologies.”

Chairman of Swiss Re America, Philip Ryan, kick-started the session, mentioning Swiss Re’s 150th anniversary in 2013. He explained how today, nothing is more challenging to the insurance industry than climate change, but suggested businesses calculate the potential instead: “We should identify climate risk but also the commercial opportunities that exist to be harnessed and drive forward an effective response to climate change.” He followed this by announcing a new commitment with The Climate Group and United Nations Global Compact: “Today I can confirm that Swiss Re has become a founding partner in the new initiative mentioned earlier by Mark Kenber, with the goal to recruit 100 corporations to commit to sourcing 100% of their energy requirements from renewable energy sources by 2020."

Next, SolarCity Board Director, Nancy Pfund, talked of socio-economic opportunities in clean energy, specifically the ‘solar revolution’. She said: “Two thirds of rooftop solar in California was installed in low and middle-income houses in 2012. And solar systems costs are 80% lower than they were five years ago. […] Solar also plays a key role in creating jobs. There are now 120,000 solar workers in the US. And these are American rooftops—the jobs will never be outsourced.”

Business leadership

Former CEO of The Climate Group and current CSO of IKEA, Steve Howard, explained how committed the retail giant is to greening its operations, highlighting the 17 wind farms in seven countries that powers more than 50% of IKEA’s own energy use--and is on track for powering 100% by 2020. Steve also focused on the theme of clean energy for consumers, saying: “We know customers want to live a more sustainable life at home", and as an example added that "LEDs are the next best thing to daylight. And will last you 20 years.”

Continuing the discussion of LEDs was Head of Global Public & Government Affairs at Philips Lighting, Harry Verhaar who annnounced the Philips and Ecofys report which launched today. Explaining the findings he said: “When we step up our efforts on energy efficiency from today's 1% per year to an annual improvement in energy intensity of 3%, we reduce fuel bills in the US by a staggering US$300 billion per year in 2020, and US$550 billion by 2030.” He added: “These economic and environmental benefits are convincing reasons on their own to take action now." Pointing to LEDs as a key tool to improving energy efficiency, he referenced our research on LED lighting, stating that in the first half 2013, 25% of Philips' turnover was LED-based.

Similarly pioneering, Meg Whitman, President & CEO of HP spoke to the audience via video, where she announced that HP will reduce its operations 20% by 2020, building on the 20% carbon reduction the company met two years early in 2011.

Global challenge

David Miliband, International Rescue Committee President and former UK Foreign Secretary, talked firstly about how there is currently no incorporated legal status for a climate refugee, and stated: ”Climate change isn’t just environmental issue it’s a security, economic, justice and humanitarian issue. [...] We must partner with you to respond to this challenge.”

Penultimate speaker Todd Stern, US Special Envoy for Climate Change referenced the EPA’s recent power plant emissions standards and emphasized the importance of climate negotiations in order to “supply confidence to countries, that if they take ambitious action they will overtake competitors.” He added: “The challenge now is to get it right: to stop talking and finger-pointing. Growth won’t be sustainable unless we address climate change.”

Our final speaker of the epic line-up was Dr Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank. He started by stating: “There are few things on which 95% of scientists agree. We must move forward from silly arguments towards what we want to do next.” He suggested setting 'a robust price' on carbon in order to address climate change. Without tackling the issue, he said there is 'no way' to end extreme poverty, suggesting: "The largest emitters have to come together". Jim Kim highlighted Obama’s climate action plan and a recent meeting with China’s Secretary General Xi Jinping--who stressed his environmental commitments--as exciting signs of progress, concluding with: “We are moving in the right direction, but these movements are too small. There are so many exciting projects, but the challenge is to take innovation--and spread it at scale.

These last words set the pace for what looks to be the biggest and most exciting week-long summit of low carbon innovation and climate action events in New York, as the fifth anniversary of Climate Week NYC comes at a critical moment where we must move beyond the climate science debate, to bold, decisive action.


Related news:

Jim Kim, Todd Stern, Tony Blair, Richard Branson and industry leaders open Climate Week NYC, call for urgent action

One year on from Sandy, building resiliency to extreme weather across the US is still a matter of urgency

New briefing and infographics explore how America can meet its long term emission goals

"Humans are dominant cause of changes in the climate system": IPCC scientists in Climate Week NYC livestream

By Clare Saxon

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